By Ron Kidd
Death by crucifixion was a most heinous form of punishment and undoubtably the most barbaric and inhuman ever devised by man. And yet such was the death of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Why was it necessary that God's Son should be subjected to such an ignominious death? Indeed what purpose could such a horrifying experience accomplish?
There have been numerous explanations put forward in the name of religion. Some say that Jesus died in order that God's anger might be appeased; a view which likens God to the pagan deities which it was believed demanded the blood of a sacrificial victim. What this idea does in effect is exalt the virtues of the Lord Jesus Christ whilst at the same time lowers those of God. The Creator is portrayed as a vengeful deity, demanding retribution and the solution to man's problem is placed in Jesus hands rather than God's. We are also presented with a picture of a man rushing forward at the eleventh hour and taking the place of the condemned, dying in his stead, paying the price in full with his own life and freeing the condemned of his debt. However, such an idea appears to ignore the fact that if Jesus died instead of us then why do we die? If Jesus paid our debts then what need is there for forgiveness the slate is clean, what further can the creditor exact of the debtors?
When we open the Bible we are presented with an entirely different picture. Instead of God standing aloof from the entire proceedings, we find Him intimately involved with the whole process of redemption"In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9). Instead of Jesus being punished as a substitute for the sinner, we find him overcoming sin by experiencing the same difficulties which beset sinful man"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren...to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17).
In dealing with the sacrifice of Jesus we need to keep in mind the sensitive nature of our subject. We can so easily lose ourselves in an academic analysis, become burdened down with technical details and yet fail to appreciate the total beauty expressed by the love of God"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
This verse summarizes God's work of redemption. It identifies the dilemma facing mankindhe is perishing. It describes the motive behind God's actions to correct the problemHe loved the world. It outlines the measures taken by the Creator to resolve the problemHe gave His Son. And it emphasizes man's responsibility if he would benefit from God's gracious acthe must manifest faith.
At the outset it is important to understand the circumstances in which mankind finds itself. The word perishing means exactly what it says; without Jesus Christ we have no hope and are without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The Psalmist informs us that "Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49:20). The reason for this is sin and the effect it has had on our relationship with the Creator. Sin entered the world as a result of Adam's disobedience to God's law. Adam was made a "living soul". He was formed from the dust of the ground, energized by the breath of God and pronounced "very good" (Gen. 2:7; Gen. 1:31). Adam was placed in harmonious surroundings with the prospect of having dominion over all God's creation, but it was a responsibility which had to be earned. Therefore Adam was placed under God's law with the understanding that disobedience would bring death,
"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17).
Adam's destiny was to be determined by his behaviour to the Creator's commandment. Sadly, Adam succumbed to temptation with the result that God enforced His law, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen 3:19).
Not only so, but the harmonious relationship previously enjoyed by Adam with the Creator was taken away,
"Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man..." (Gen. 3:23-24).
Thus the human race, as constituted at this time in Adam and Eve, became separated, estranged from God because of sin. The apostle Paul comments on this situation:
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" Romans 5:12.
Adam's transgression has affected all of us"death passed upon all men". Not that we are guilty for what Adam did, rather we suffer the consequences of his sin. Moreover Paul informs us that we justify the condemnation, "for that all have sinned". What does he mean by this comment? Simply this, that when God enforced His law in Eden there came into existence what the Bible describes as "the law of sin and death" or "the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom. 8:2; 7:23). Again the apostle Paul comments: "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners..." (Rom. 5:19). This is not saying that God forces us to sin, rather that at birth sin is a characteristic of our make-up; at some point after birth it is inevitable that we will sin because of our nature. This is borne out by the following scriptures:
"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" Gen. 6:5.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jer. 17:9.
"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders..." Mark 7:21.
"O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).
Because this is so we also are separated from God by our sins, without Jesus Christ we are "alienated and enemies in (our) mind by wicked works", or as God accused His people Israel "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Col. 1:21; Isaiah 59:2). Is it any wonder then that the apostle John describes our situation as "perishing"? The apostle Paul recognized the dilemma and with great agony cried out "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24).
God so Loved the World
What a miserable situation Adam's sin has created. It would have been entirely God's prerogative to have destroyed Adam and start all over again, but would not this indicate failure on the Creator's part? Alternatively God could have ignored man's disobedience, but again wouldn't this have been an abdication of authority? His word would mean nothing. What then was God to do, how was He to resolve the situation?
The Bible describes the Almighty as "a just God and a Saviour", of being "full of grace and truth" (Isaiah 45:1; John 1:14) and in this revelation of God's character we find the only possible solution. The justice of God required that sin should be condemned whereas His grace established a process whereby mankind might be reconciled to Him. Thus God became the Saviour, the initiator of mankind's redemption.
The first indication that it was to be God's work is found in Genesis 3:21 where we read that "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). The blood of an animal was shed by God in order to cover their shame. In Genesis 22:8, Abraham, who was to become the father of the faithful, reminded his own son that "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering". And nineteen hundred years later on the banks of the river Jordan, John the Baptist fixed his eyes on Jesus of Nazareth and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
Thus a scheme of reconciliation was set in motion from the beginning. A scheme in which the law of sin and death was rigidly enforced yet at the same time providing a means of reconciliation for members of Adam's race. Jesus Christ was God's lamb provided by "Himself" for the redemption of His creation. The following scriptures illustrate God's intimate involvement in the work of salvation:
"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood..." Romans 3:25.
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5:8.
"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" 1 John 4:10
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ...To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" 2 Chron 5:18-19.
God Gave His Only Son
It is at this juncture that much of the confusion arises regarding the sacrifice of Jesus. It will be helpful, therefore, to establish just what was accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ. This is made clear from the following scriptures:
"But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" Hebrews 9:26.
"But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" Hebrews 10:12.
"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" 1 Peter 2:24.
"By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" Hebrews 9:12.
The purpose of Jesus' sacrifice, as these verses demonstrate, was to conquer sin. But the obvious question arising from this is how is it possible for sin to be conquered by a man hanging on a cross?
We have already noted that because of Adam's disobedien-ce God brought into existence the law of sin and death and because of this law man has manifested a weakness towards sin. Paul confirms this when he says, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:22-23).
Like all mankind Paul experienced a constant struggle against sin. No matter how hard he tried it was impossible for him to overcome sin and led him to cry: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Romans 7:18). However, God was to triumph where man would inevitably fail and Paul again says, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6).
In order to conquer sin it had to be challenged in its own dominion, in the arena where sin had the greatest influencein our mortal body (Romans 3:23). How then could this be accomplished?
We must return once again to the book of Genesis to see God's scheme being set in motion. It is here that the principles of God's plan of redemption are revealed. In condemning the serpent for its role in Adam's transgression, God said,
"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15).
Here we find the first indication of how God intended to judge sin. It would be accomplished by the seed of the woman inflicting a fatal wound to the head of the power of sin, whilst incurring in the conflict a temporary wound in the heel.
At the appointed time the seed of the woman was born"When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Galatians 4:4). Jesus Christ was born of a woman. Physically he was no different than ourselves, mortal and capable of being tempted. Again the scriptures must speak for themselves:
"Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" Romans 1:3
"God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" Romans 8:3.
"For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren" Hebrews 2:16-17.
Some may find this offensive, nevertheless the word of God is very clear. A word of caution is necessary at this point. The apostle John says, "Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (2 John 7). Jesus' identification with Adam's race is an integral part of God's plan of redemption, to deny it is to be classed with the antichrist.
It was necessary that Jesus should share our nature, had he not done so there could have been no atonement (at-one-meant), sin could not have been conquered. He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" and being made like unto his brethren Jesus could experience the same influences common to man and so effectively challenge sin by not submitting to it. This he did, "He was in all points tempted like as we are, "yet without sin", and again "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).
Wherein lay the difference? How was it possible for Jesus Christ to overcome when the rest of Adam's race had failed? He was the Son of God. To Mary it was said "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
Like all children Jesus inherited characteristics from both his parents. From his mother he inherited mortality and all that was associated with it; from his Father he inherited a strong character"The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD" (Isaiah 11:2). Thus although sin took hold of his nature it had no control over his character. He was "the Son of Man whom thou (God) madest strong for thyself" (Psalm 80:17).
Working in Harmony
God gave His only begotten Son for the sins of the world, but Jesus was no mere puppet. It is true that the Law and the Prophets had pointed forward to this awful day. Though he was delivered "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23), nevertheless he was a willing participant in God's work of salvation. Of him the scriptures could say "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will O God" (Hebrews 10:7). Jesus endorsed that prophecy by saying "No man taketh it (his life) from me, but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:18).
In his death, Jesus declared God's righteousness. He endorsed his Father's justice in Eden, that God was right in condemning sin. Jesus' commitment to his Father's work was evident at his baptism; at that time, though sinless, he said "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" Matthew 3:15. But the scriptures declare "This is he that came...not by water only, but by water and blood" (1 John 5:6) and so "Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).
The Bible presents a picture of God and His Son working in harmony for the good of mankind. We read "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" or again "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34; 5:17). Like Abraham and his son Isaac, "they went both of them together" towards Calvary (Genesis 22:6). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Contrary to popular religion, the crucifixion did not pay any debt. God designed it to enable Him, upon conditions which would uphold His own attributes of holiness, righteousness and love, to mercifully extend forgiveness to sinners, and remove the consequences of sin by the gift of immortal life. Jesus died, not as a substitute, not instead of the ungodly, but as a representative. He died on our behalf, he bare our sins in his own body. Though he was God's Son, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and because he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted (1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 5:8; 2:18).
Top of Page Magazine Contents Bible Magazine Front Page Feedback